Many people who live rural know just how vital art can be to keeping small towns alive. Art attracts people, creative communities attract people, and small towns get a permanent economic boost, along with younger people deciding to stay, or return, along with new people moving to the area. The NEA is vital to this effort, but if you go by the Regime, the NEA is one of those leftist, elite snobbery deals. Nothing could be further from the truth. Trump and his henchman Mulvaney cite rural people and towns as a reason to kill off funding the NEA, which simply highlights their ignorance and indifference. This is yet another way the Tiny Tyrant is making sure to screw over all those rural voters and communities.
…Now Fergus Falls can boast that it attracts artists to the area, as well as other people drawn to the quality of life an artsy town can create. “Artists can play a huge role in making communities more attractive to live,” said Michele Anderson, rural program director for Springboard and one of the three staff members who moved to Fergus Falls for the job. “People that maybe thought of their art more as a hobby [are] realizing, ‘Oh, this is something that can make my community a more livable place, it can help inform our future.’”
The sense of pride in the town has been contagious, Anderson says. In recent years clothing shops, a wood-fired pizza restaurant, and even a brewery have opened up downtown.
“We’ve done exactly what an investor would want to see: taken the [NEA] money and leveraged it into private investment,” Zabel said. “As a return on investment, that small amount of public dollars has really meant a lot of leverage and visibility and a lot of investment into that community.”
A common misconception about the NEA is that it funds elite art in wealthier coastal cities and towns. That’s the kind of reasoning offered up by the Trump administration, which has released two budget documents that would completely shut the NEA down starting in 2018.
About 40 percent of NEA projects are in high-poverty neighborhoods, while 14 percent of NEA grants are for projects that at least partially impact rural areas. Another quarter of state agency grants are awarded to rural places, many of which disperse NEA money.
That funding helps bring huge economic benefits to those communities. The arts and culture sector nationally contributes $729.6 billion to the country’s economy, composing 4.2 percent of GDP. That share that has grown by about 35 percent since 1998. The sector employs 4.8 million people.
It certainly has been for Lanesboro, Minnesota, a town of about 750 people. The $50,000 NEA grant that Lanesboro Arts received allowed the organization to finish raising the money it needed to renovate a historic theater into an arts residency and performance space, hiring local contractors, electricians, plumbers, and other construction workers in the process. The community was also able to leverage the money to hire consultants who put in place guidelines for its historic downtown, which businesses then used to redo their storefronts, investing even more money in the area. More than $2.5 million has now been invested in downtown Lanesboro.
“The results of getting an NEA grant had a lot of ripple effects, not just for our organization but for the community,” said John Davis, executive director of Lanesboro Arts. “Getting one small grant really allowed us to have this upward momentum of success.”
Those projects in turn have put Lanesboro on the map. “The funding from the NEA… really helped solidify Lanesboro as a strong arts community,” he said. The same year it got the funding it was named one of the top 10 small-town art places in the country, while the next year it received the 2014 Bush Prize for Community Innovation. That’s vital for the town to continue to flourish; it’s specifically trying to convince artists and their families to move to Lanesboro.
“How do you sustain small towns, how do you attract new business, how do you attract families to move?” Davis asked. “These are all byproducts of NEA funding… It adds water to the seeds to make a stronger community.”
There’s much more here. Arts of all types are absolutely vital to all humans, and to all human endeavors. Whether it’s visual arts, textiles, television, food, music, or any other type of art, it’s something we all crave. Arts allow for more positive socialness among people, and sparks a chain of creativity. Where there is art, there is thought and communication. Art is the very best of us. Art helps to educate us, to lift us up. We cannot bear the loss of arts, because if we sanction this, we sanction the loss of humanity as well.